Pedagogy: Part 2
In November 2021 I published Pedagogy: Part 1 which was a reflection on the ground work for Muneera Pilgrim's The Joy Project as part of In Between Time's We are Bristol engagement programme. Since writing and publishing that post eight months ago so much has changed for me personally and in the world. This post reflects on those changes and the questions raised by the next stage of The Joy Project alongside how this work may directly influence my PhD research.
Text paintings in progress, Frances Bossom June 2021
Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer
As Autumn 2020 turned into Winter, the UK was submerged deep into another lockdown. During this time Muneera, Gaia and I continued our Reading Group sessions via Zoom, exploring writers including bell hooks and Adrienne Marie Browne. Our deeply woven conversations and dialogue about their ideas underpin everything we have done together.
In darkest depths of January 2021 my father caught Covid 19 and died a few weeks later in an NHS Nightingale hospital. He was elderly with added health complications (see Death blogpost); unlike hundreds of thousands of others in the UK, I was able to be with my father as he passed. Whilst I took Compassionate Leave the Joy Project continued to steadily evolve. In February 2021, Muneera posted a callout for women to take part an online taster workshop for the Joy Project via Eastside Community Trust's website. Each person who expressed an interest was posted out a Joy Pack containing; a tea bag, note pad, pen, lavender, collage material. In Spring 2021 Muneera delivered the main body of 8 workshops on Zoom March to April 2021. I was able to take part in the last five sessions.
Call out, The Joy Project, East Side Community Trust Website, February 2021
Now, I am writing this blog at the end of an intense summer and four months after the Joy Project online workshops ended. The pandemic still controls our freedoms in the UK and cases are on the rise along with the inter-related crises of inequality, racism and war.
BBC News Website, July 2021
BBC News Website 7th September 2021
Guardian, 4th June 2021
Derek Major, The Black Enterprise, 13th July 2021
BBC News Website, 7th Sepember 2021
Facebook post, Helen Cole, IBT's CEO/Artistic Director,10th June 2021
Joy, Intimacy, Depth and Care
Throughout 2020 and 2021 art institutions, artists and cultural workers around the world have responded to the pandemic through offering online gatherings, postal projects, collective community repair and in some situations coordinated the distribution of resources and emergency aid.
Corona Virus Community Response by Museums - Community Document, Shared Google Doc, April 2020
Queens Museum Website, September 2021
Covid 19 has demanded that institutions revisit their social purpose and are driven by their communities' needs in new and unexpected ways. The Joy Project is emerging both as a direct response to current crises and Bristol's very specific and deeply entrenched historic inequalities. The Joy Project is dominated by a logic of love, care, joy, kindness, listening, dialogue and connection. We need to consider carefully what we have learnt about working with care as a dominant logic during this time and how this shift has the potential to generate new, more equitable models of working across cultural and community sectors.
What can we learn from the Joy Project in the face of intense personal and international; uncertainty, frustration, isolation, illness, individualism, fear, racism, grief, loss and rage?
Muneera works with people and poetry as a radical and loving act of resistance. On one level she is offering a very gentle and simple invitation to come together and converse with others about what brings them joy. This invitation to intimately connect with yourself and others has been transformative in so many ways. The writing prompts that Muneera devised and offered collaborators were directly connected to her own poetry, work by ancient Sufi poets (Rumi and Hafiz) and other contemporary black feminist writers (Luvvie Ajayi, Vanessa Kisuule and Jasmin Kaur). Whilst reflecting on the sessions Muneera expressed her surprise at ‘how deep they went’. This depth was in part a result of the intimacy Muneera cultivated between everyone involved. Muneera also embodied what she hoped everyone would bring to the project in terms of commitment, love, care and being fully ourselves.
Muneera's feminist practice can be understood as part of long lineage of teachers, poets, writers and activists including those we discussed during the Reading Group and those that featured in the online Workshops.
Humanity and Tech
During the first Joy Project icebreaker session everyone made a cup of tea using the tea bag Muneera had posted out in the Joy Packs and drank them together over Zoom. This simple online act was sensory, physical and so unifying. It also served to soften and evaporate the literal physical and digital divide of the Zoom call. I would assert that tech is not powerful enough to contain, mimic or transmit humanity or liveness yet but it can be re-appropriated to create spaces of activism and communion.
The Lock Down Resolution experimented with humanity, liveness and intimacy too as part of In Between Time's expanded arts festival The Rupture. Mammalian Diving Reflex worked in collaboration with young Bristol creatives to create a hybrid theatre show that could be experienced physically or remotely. Performers who were simultaneously live on stage and online, initiating conversations and reflection between audiences and each other about their personal experiences of the Pandemic. During the show VR tech submerged us into their emotional landscapes whilst Zoom enabled live, spontaneous exchange and dialogue.
Facebook post, Frances Bossom, 14th July 2021
Mammailian Diving Reflex Website, 2021
Digital Power, Privacy and Control
This iteration of the Joy Project does not speak to the question of how we tackle digital poverty; everyone who took part already had internet access via a phone or lap top (as with The Lockdown Resolution). In that sense this work is not democratic. However, during The Joy Project we did learn how to intimately inhabit Zoom with each other; it felt as though we were embodied and present - in this sense we superseded the technical limitations of working online. It was the intention that Muneera brought to the digital workshops that cultivated this sense of intimacy .
How can this work be expanded?
How else can we embody and share our humanness, humanity and desire to connect in a digital world?
As VR tech continues to evolve we may well find ourselves using applications that enable people to meet, mingle and connect in virtual spaces using headsets. Zuckerberg from Facebook talks about creating 'an embodied internet'. In this article Verity Mackintosh emphasises the darker side of these developments; she can see that Facebook and other companies, via our engagement with their apps, will be able to collect data about our behaviours, subconscious body language and how we think. We need to talk about and question these power dynamics.
Who is creating platforms that are socially just?
What are the environmental impacts of shifting our cultural practices online and how can we mitigate this?
What other platforms and tech can we use to open up and hold dialogue?
As cultural workers practicing in digital spaces, it is essential we remain vigilant about who controls the tech we use and how our personal data is retained and used - particularly when we are concerned with cultivating intimacy in online. As I move forward with my PhD research, the question about what platforms I use to record my fieldwork are not only a practical question but an ethical one too.
BBC News Website, 23rd July 2021
Muneera referred to everyone involved in the workshops including; participants from the community, representatives from stakeholder organisations, facilitators and evaluators - as ‘collaborators’. Shifting this language enabled us to action the conversations we had during the Reading Group sessions about decentring mainstream arts institutions and flattening or dissolving hierarchies, assumptions and values that often exist in community engagement, particularly with people described as ‘marginalised’. The Joy Project is very much a collaborative process that actively celebrates the interests, expertise, knowledge and creativity embodied in the community. This is relational work, situated online, that draws people into dialogue with each other and happens ‘with people’ – not ‘to them’.
How can we continue challenging the language we use and test out new ways of articulating what we do?
Reflection and Expansion
The Joy Project is a work still very much in progress. I am still, very slowly listening back to the Reading Group recordings from deep Winter time (the workshops were not recorded). This is a process of deeply attending to what we said and how we connected. I am expanding the fledgling pedagogy or activist manifesto that I described in Pedagogy: Part 1 which in turn is enabling me to identify what factors make sharing agency and genuine collaboration possible. Watching the recordings back has enabled me to reflect specific moments back to Gaia and Muneera, which has in turn refreshed their memories and thinking about our collective journey. My experience of dialogue and reflection in the context of this project is of an accumulative and expansive exchange, a relay and an application of thinking and doing.
Slowly interweaving practice and theory
Our preparation and planning for the Joy Project (eg the Reading Group) was in itself a form of embodied pedagogy where we were actively dialoguing and theorising around education, activism and feminism. This close coupling of theory and practice naturally segued into the workshops themselves. Interweaving practice and theory is something I want to continue with my academic research; my doing has to be theorising or theory in action and my theory done or actioned. Likewise, the way in which I convene an ongoing dialogue around Arnolfini’s archive, participation, education and co-production needs to be a piece of collective critical pedagogy in it’s own right. I want to be an embodied practitioner, valuing lived experience, giving space to difference and bringing myself wholly to the process – with an awareness of who I am, what my story is and how that influences my work.
How can the cultural sector encourage slower, more reflective practices?
How can everything we do be positioned as generative research or inquiry?
Paulo Freire reminds us that an;
‘inquiry must be directed towards humanization…The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity' Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Muneera invites us, through the Joy Project, to transform the uncertainty, frustration, isolation, illness, individualism, fear, racism, grief, loss that I spoke about earlier – not in isolation but in communion with one another. A liberating communion.
Poem by Charneh Watson, In Between Time Website, 2021
Be under no illusion, this transformative pedagogy is not without discomfort, challenge, tensions or misunderstandings. Drawing together differences and difficult conversations isn’t always easy. We must in turn actively question the impact and politics of the platforms and tech we choose to deliver this work through.
The Joy Project is a call to centre love and joy through intimacy, connection and dialogue. It is not about projecting a vision on to a place or giving everyone the opportunity to add their voice to someone else’s dream.
It is not about offering spectacle, but rather first and foremost about slowly opening up generative dialogue in order find out what matters and collectively acting accordingly.
In Pleasure Activism Adrienne Marie Browne reminds us;
'I believe that all organizing is science fiction—that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced. I believe that we are in an imagination battle....Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality'.
This is revolutionary futurity.
The Joy Pack 2021